community-based, non-corporate, participatory media

About Contact Us Policies Mailing Lists Radio Video Publish! Calendar Search

View article without comments

His Last Words Were "Keith, Keith I'm Only 31"
by Quinten Wednesday, Oct. 06, 2004 at 5:02 AM (email address validated)

Nine years ago next week marks the 9th anniversary of the murder of Jonny Gammage by five Pittsburgh police officers. This story reminds us of what happened.

His last words were "Keith, Keith -- I'm only 31."

Beaten to death by 5 police officers in the Overbrook section of Pittsburgh, the case of Jonny Gammage divided Allegheny County and shocked people across the world. From the beginning race was a central issue. The five police officers implicated in Gammage's death were all white. Gammage was black. Although a racially-mixed coroner's jury unanimously voted to indict all five officers, the first time that a police officer was ever indicted in Allegheny County, the eventual criminal trials were by jurors imported from the whitest corners of the State. Outrage at the outcome of the case -- two mistrials and one not-guilty verdict -- caused the City of Pittsburgh to create the Citizen's Police Review Board. Years later, the echoes of the case still shape city race-relations and the lack of trust that many residents of Pittsburgh have for the police. Today, a look back at the case through the lense of one of the jurors on the coroner's jury, and an interview with Pete Shell of an anti-police brutality group that formed in reaction to the Gammage case.

Nine years ago next week, Jonny Gammage, a native of Syracuse and the cousin of Ray Seals, a football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was driving through the Overbrook section of Pittsburgh on Route 51 in his cousin's Jaguar. It was a little after midnight, and he was tired because he was getting a cold. Lt. Milton Mulholland testified that he began to follow Gammage at a distance of about 15 feet for more than a mile and a half, without his lights on. He then testifies that he noticed the brake lights flashing on as though Gammage were slowing down and picking up speed. Natural because of the steep grade of Route 51 and with a police officer tailgating him, but Lt. Mulholland decided to turn his lights on, and Gammage pulled over, perhaps thinking that the officer was finally going to pass him because he had received a call.

Instead, police officers from 2 other boroughs joined Mulholland, including John Vojtas, later to be implicated as the primary agressor in Gammage's death. While Mulholland was checking Gammage's license and registration, a confrontation occured that brought Gammage out of the car at Vojtas' gunpoint. Gammage, holding out his cell phone to Vojtas -- perhaps to confirm his story that he was the cousin and business partner of Ray Seals -- had it knocked out of his hand with the officer's flashlight and was forced to the ground with the help of two other officers who had by now responded, Albert and Henderson. Three officers - Henderson, Vojtas, and Mulholland -- testified Albert came in and started hitting Gammage in the neck, left and right side of the face, in the throat, and on his back with a collapsible baton. He hit him so many times the baton flew out of his hand and he had to stop to rest.

The officers continued to beat Gammage with their fists, the collapsible baton, and their flashlights, this while Gammage was handcuffed, immobilized with five men on top of him, one with his knee squarely on his back and another sitting on his legs. At one point, one of the officers left a bite mark in Gammage's rear. The eventual cause of Gammage's death was asphyxiation.

By the time that Gammage died, tens of police cars from all over Pittsburgh had already arrived at the scene. Not one officer intervened in the one-sided beating. A racially mixed six-member jury unanimously indicted all five of the police officers for the murder of Jonny Gammage.

The jury trials that would follow would end unhappily for many members of the Pittsburgh community and would outrage people all over the world. Only three officers were charged; two others made agreements that they would testify against the others. Two trials ended in mistrials. John Vojtas was acquitted by an all-white jury from the 99% white Lackawanna County, brought in by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court because of fears of jury prejudicing from the large amount of media coverage that surrounded the case.

After being acquitted, John Vojtas was promoted in the Brentwood Police Department. The Syracuse Post-Standard had this response:

The white residents of Brentwood, Pa., who repeatedly cheered the promotion of Brentwood Officer John Vojtas, despite his role in Syracusan Jonny Gammage's traffic-stop death on Oct. 12, 1995, have clearly drawn their battle lines.

They sent a message that it does not matter if a life has been ripped away from a family, a community and a nation of African-Americans and others who've watched the same distressing scenario play out time after time.

It does not matter if those paid to protect and serve have played a culpable role in a citizen's death over an alleged bad car light.

It only matters that a good ol' boy got off and, to boot, received a promotion after his acquittal on involuntary manslaughter charges.

And life is good in Brentwood again.

For audio of the reactions to the Vojtas decision, visit this website.

add your comments

Interview with Pete Shell
by Quinten Wednesday, Oct. 06, 2004 at 8:51 PM

audio: ogg vorbis at 3.6 mebibytesaudio: ogg vorbis at 3.6 mebibytes

This interview with Pete Shell of the Campus Coalition for Peace And Justice, now President of the Thomas Merton Center, was originally aired on Tuesday, October 5th on WRCT Pittsburgh, 88.3 FM.

OGG Vorbis format, 13:26 minutes.

add your comments

Interview in MP3 Format
by Quinten Wednesday, Oct. 06, 2004 at 8:57 PM

audio link: MP3 at 3.7 mebibytes

Flash player:

Embed this audio player: audio link: MP3 at 3.7 mebibytes

Flash player:

Embed this audio player:

This interview with Pete Shell of the Campus Coalition for Peace And Justice, now President of the Thomas Merton Center, was originally aired on Tuesday, October 5th on WRCT Pittsburgh, 88.3 FM.

MP3 Format, 13:26 minutes.

This MP3 formatted file is larger than the Ogg Vorbis file, lower quality and patent encumbered. But here it is, just in case you haven't switched to an open audio format yet.

add your comments

GOD is watching
by dabiness Saturday, Dec. 24, 2005 at 10:23 AM

This is a great example of how caucasian's stick together despite any evil's another has perpetrated. From Emmitt Till to Jonny Gammage. But THE LORD is watching.

add your comments

racist asswipe
by paleskin Saturday, Dec. 24, 2005 at 10:46 AM

What's that shit bout "whitey sticking together" mean?

Like blackie don't?

add your comments

racist asswipe revisited
by George K. Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005 at 5:30 AM

NOw NOw, you cannot say that black people stick together to protect themselves. That statement is intrinsically racist, since society is not permitted to criticize black peoples actions. After all, black people as a group are similar to the Jewish people in that their groups had been subjected to "Holocaust (TM)" and "diaspora (TM)".
Can you say "OJ"?

add your comments

Hell Welcomes Pokorny
by cerebus Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005 at 8:02 AM

I wonder if Pokorny will be wearing his 'stop snitching' shirt in hell, because something obviously went awry with his colleague Mollet.
Pokorny really wanted his pound of smack back, didn't he?

add your comments

by Stan Keys Friday, Oct. 20, 2006 at 6:40 AM North Baldwin

The author of this article obviously lives nowhere near Brentwood or interacts with it's population. To write, "The white residents of Brentwood, Pa., who repeatedly cheered the promotion of Brentwood Officer John Vojtas..." shows either a fantasy driven mind or someone who's only source of information was other biased media.

What is the point of indy media if all you do is paraphase the mainstream garbage?

I moved to Brentwood (for work) not too long after the trial was over and right before the promotion. The "white residents" that the author speaks of were not happy with the verdict. You could walk into just about any establishment in town and here people tell stories about how the man wasn't racist because he was equally abusive with white people. They would talk about how they felt he killed his girlfriend a few years earlier. (Something you and the mainstream have in common, never mentioned how he got out of killing a white person too.) Nobody I ever talked to in Brentwood believed he was anything more than a bully scumbag who never should have got his job in the first place.

When he got promoted people were furious. Yes white people. You have to realize that this cop had been bullying residents of Brentwood for years before Gammage ever heard of Brentwood, and again, most residents suspected him of killing his girlfriend.

There were very few residents of Brentwood who wanted John Vojtas to even live near them let alone police over them.

Sorry for the late response here but I was looking up some info and came across this horrible race-motivated article and had to speak up.

add your comments

Over a Decade Later
by Disgusted by Racism Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007 at 12:49 PM

The racist, hate-filled, actions and ideologies of so-called "authorities" is sickening. When it is all said and done, I hope that they understand what it is that they have done, and have in someway repented to God and the victim for their wrong-doings.

add your comments

"racist, hate-filled, actions and ideologies"
by just wondering Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007 at 1:19 PM

You mean, as in liberalism?

add your comments

Speaking of hate-filled
by Leslie Mollett Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007 at 1:14 PM

My business partner, Pokorny betrayed me, and tried to rip me off. I should have know not to do business with him, since the State Police already knew he was dirty. That's why they took him off of narcotics and sent him back to writing tickets.

add your comments

© 2001-2009 Pittsburgh Independent Media Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not endorsed by the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center.
Disclaimer | Privacy